BRB – Log off and get your life back

Have you ever sat down at your desk, prepared to study or write a paper, and found yourself chatting with a friend on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) instead? Have you ever logged on simply to check your e-mail, then glanced at the clock to realize that hours have gone by?

Today, with the Internet playing such a large role in our lives, it is easy to get swept up in a virtual world – and even easier to let precious minutes that should be devoted to work or socializing slip by in doing so.

“The Internet is transforming life because people are now spending hours on the computer,” Larry Gage, associate director for counseling in the Psychological Services office, said. “Good things can come from the Internet, like research and shopping. Computers are not evil – my main concern is when folks use them to excess.”

For college students who are able to stay logged on to the Internet 24 hours a day, excess is certainly an issue.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by psychologists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. found that “approximately 10 percent of Internet-using students have used the Internet to the degree that their usage meets criteria that are parallel to those of other forms of dependence.”

So, can the Internet really be considered as addictive as gambling, drugs or alcohol?

“I have tried to quit, but I think it might be more addicting than nicotine,” joked Mike Slattery, junior psychology major, when asked about Internet use.

The Rensselaer survey goes on to list seven criteria used to determine substance dependence which, according to Gage, can also apply to students with an Internet compulsion.

“I encourage students to look at these criteria and apply them to the time they are spending online,” he said. “Many students don’t realize that the Internet can negatively impact their social lives and academics.”

The criteria include tolerance; withdrawal; using larger amounts over a longer period than was intended; the desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control the substance use; a great deal of time is spent obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance; social, occupational or recreational activities are reduced because of substance use; and substance use continues in spite of negative effects.

Although it might seem outlandish to consider excessive Internet use a dependence or addiction, look at it this way: if your Internet goes out for a few minutes, hours, or even days, do you feel frustrated and antsy? Do you feel like you are missing out on something, and have trouble finding a new way to occupy your time?

“If my Internet was down for longer than a few hours, I would feel cut off from the world,” Callan Wright, junior international business major, said.

Junior computer science major Mike Woods said it would be his “first priority to get (the Internet) back up before anything else.”

According to Gage, if the Internet takes such importance that other responsibilities are eclipsed, it can lead to serious trouble.

“People in these situations can crash and burn when it comes to academics,” he said. “This has the potential to create crisis.”

For most college students, academic struggles can result from a failure to manage time.

“I find that IMing, Facebook and other things are very distracting when I have work to do,” Slattery said. “I continuously check them hoping that something has changed in the last five minutes.”

According to Gage, even worse than the Internet’s use as a tool of procrastination are its negative social implications.

“I’m concerned when I get students in here that don’t have social skills because they spend more time on the computer than with other people,” he said. “What issues will they be forced to wrestle with in the future because of this deficit?”

Gage said the solution is simple – balance.

“Half of interaction with people ought to be face-to-face,” he said. “If students begin to interact primarily through the use of electronics, they will lose an edge when it comes to perceiving things. They will lose their ability to interact with one another.”

Many students at the College, though, believe the Internet serves them as a supplement, rather than as a replacement, for personal interaction.

“I see talking to people online as an extension of talking to them face-to-face,” Woods said. “If anything, it adds more to my relationship with that person.”

In an online world where nothing might be as it seems, Wright said it is more important now than ever to make sure social interactions take place in person.

“You can never replace a good verbal conversation with a typed one,” she said. “People can edit themselves over AIM, and it’s important to make sure you are getting the real thing.”

In order to preserve important social skills and to ensure that school work does not fall by the wayside, Gage suggests that students take a long, hard look at the amount of time they are spending online.

“As a general recommendation, I suggest keeping track of where your time goes for a week and deciding how this compares with where you’d like to see your time go,” he said. “If addicted, students can work toward a goal of moderating and determine what activities have been neglected.”

According to an article published by The New York Times in December 2004, excessive use of the Internet does indeed cut into time once spent on other things.

The article notes that an hour of time spent on the Internet reduces face-to-face time with friends, co-workers and family by 23.5 minutes. It also shortens sleep by eight-and-a-half minutes.

According to Gage, students should start small in their quest to lessen the amount of time they spend on the Internet and to regain control of their lives.

“Set specific goals for change,” he said. “If you are spending 30 hours a week on the computer, try for 20 hours. See what is in your comfort zone. I advocate that people spend some chunk of (their) day when everything is off, but it comes down to your individual comfort level and need.”

– Information from http://studentaffairs/com/ejournal/Winter_2001/addiction2.htm,